Fes is the first Stage Caravane Route

Leo notes

Caravan notes

Cristel notes

A Day in the life of a Caravan merchant

Walking through Fes, one wonders at the hundreds or shops, boutiques and one-man stalls that crowd the city's tiny alleys. Overcharged mules transport endless goods up and down the cobblestoned hills, with little or no regard for clueless wanderers like ourselves.

In Leo's days, Fes was no different. It was then the main center of industry, crafts and business in the Maghreb, and had been so since the XIIth century. Reading his methodic description of the city's many crafts (from book sellers and leather dyers, to copper melters and fruit merchants- extending in co-centric circles from the Quaraouine mosque) one is not surprised to learn that at its height, Fes regrouped some 150 different professions. Travelers and traders of all places stopped here either on their way to or back from the Sahara.

Let's follow a typical traveler, as he enters the medina through one of its great doors, in search of a place to rest his tired body, and stock up on goods for the road.
Approaching the city on horseback (dromedaries would only be rented once he reached the Southern tips of Morocco), our traveler would have been one of many amongst a convoy of merchants and pilgrims coming from one of the rich coastal communities.

Bab Boujeloud- the Boujeloud "door"

Loaded with European goods (textiles and beads), these merchants would be eager to exchange them for Fassi leather and books, which garnered high prices in the Sudan. They probably conducted these trades from within a fondouk, or caravanserail: a hotel of sorts, for traveling mechants.

the entrance to a Fondouk

The Sagha Fondouk

    The city had many "fondouks"- most still stand today. Men slept in bedrooms in the top two floors while their horses and mules rested in the inner courtyard. On the bottom floor, artisans and merchants set up shop, selling mostly to this traveling business community. Certain fondouks were 'reserved' for Jewish and Christian merchants living in Fes, as they had trouble setting up shop in the city's many souks.

Every respectable fondouk would also have a set of scales, to weigh the goods sold and bought here- as traveling caravans needed to keep close track of their purchases and sales. The road ahead was long and treacherous, and provisions had to be made for both the journey and the transactions in Sudan.

Scales in the Sagha fondouk

Bab Guissa

While resting, stocking up on goods for the road, and conversing with other travelers living in the fondouk, our merchant would also be busy securing an escort for his journey from Fes to the South, as the mountains lying between the city and the desert were home to robber tribes, looking for an easy caravan to pillage.

Once all his business was attended to, our merchant would leave Fes, early in the morning, when the city's streets could make way for his caravan of people, horses and goods. Exiting from cast a nostaligic glance to the gilded door, and shudder in anticipation of the rough road lying ahead.